City of Birmingham

Alabama Starts Reopening; Birmingham Requires Face Coverings and Institutes Nighttime Curfew

Rojo, a restaurant on Highland Avenue, shared Benjamin Franklin’s advice as Alabama was on the cusp of starting to reopen. (Source: Tom Gordon)

Alabama is officially restarting its economy – a bit.

The state’s Stay-at-Home order expired at 5 p.m. as a new Safer-at-Home order took its place, and the Shelter-in-Place order for the city of Birmingham expires at midnight.

But Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announced Thursday afternoon that the city had instituted a curfew that begins each evening at 10:00 and ends the following morning at 5:00.

Woodfin also reminded people that the city has a new law that beginning Friday requires people out in public to wear face coverings. Medical-grade masks are not required by the ordinance; scarves, bandanas or other fabrics will suffice.

The new law carves out specific circumstances in which coverings need not be worn. The homeless and children under two years of age are specifically exempted, as are those who are exercising outside, alone in an office, or for whom wearing the masks would pose a health, safety or security risk.

 Businesses and Stores Opening

As the state eases up on its emergency order, retail stores were cleared to open at 5 p.m. Thursday, if they choose. However, they must limit the shoppers allowed in to half or less of their maximum capacity, disinfect and allow room for customers to stay 6 feet or more away from each other.

Businesses, too, may reopen if they can ensure social distancing among workers. Elective medical procedures also may resume.

The state’s beaches are open, but gatherings of 10 people or more are still prohibited, and people still must stay 6 feet away from each other.

UAB put out advice for people who go shopping Friday. They include wearing a mask, staying six feet away from others and limiting the number of people in an aisle.

Only pick up or touch items you intend to buy and sanitize after you touch. Items. Wash the front and back of your hands thoroughly when you get home.

Not Meeting Benchmarks

Woodfin pointed out that the Trump Administration had released guidelines for reopening the economy and relaxing restrictions enforced during the pandemic. Those recommend reopening after the states had a downward trajectory in cases and illnesses for 14 days more, had the ability to treat patients without overburdening hospitals, had sufficient testing being conducted and had traced contacts of those who had contracted the disease.

“Speaking from a data-driven standpoint or a health standpoint of satisfying those five things … the only one that I can share with you in full confidence that’s backed by data is hospitalization,” Woodfin said. “Those other four (criteria) have not been met with data for me to stand before you, the public, residents of this city, and say, ‘We are safe. You can go out here and do what you want, because we don’t have to worry about COVID-19.’ That is not the case.”

Woodfin said that he and the Birmingham City Council had three options regarding the city’s shelter-in-place ordinance: extend it, allow it to expire or modify the ordinance. After waiting to see what action Ivey would take with her statewide order, particularly with her allowing almost all retail establishment to reopen with occupancy restrictions, Woodfin and the council replaced the 24-hour curfew with one that begins each evening at 10:00 and ends the following morning at 5:00.

“We want people to use common sense,” Woodfin said.

The revised Birmingham ordinance expires May 15, the same day as Ivey’s newest order.

While violation of the city ordinance does carry possible $500 fines and jail time as a misdemeanor, Woodfin stressed that arresting people is not a primary purpose of the ordinance, and that police, instead, would focus on informing those who aren’t in compliance.

Stricter Local Rules

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall earlier this week reminded cities that more restrictive rules “must be exercised within constitutional parameters.”

Woodfin brushed aside any suggestion of conflict with Marshall. “We were classmates in Leadership Alabama a few years back. We spent a year together in Leadership Alabama. … His approach and my approach today may be different, and that’s okay,” Woodfin said. “Him and I both lawyers, and we both know what we legally can and legally can’t do.”

Woodfin noted that one in five Birmingham residents are aged 60 or over; nationally, senior citizens have died at a much higher rate from COVID-19 than patients who are younger. Several medical issues such as diabetes and heart conditions also tend to affect the African American population more than other ethnicities, and “Birmingham is the fourth-blackest city in America,” Woodfin said.